The term battered women refers to women who are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is defined as violence between members of a household, usually spouses. In contrast, the term spousal abuse refers specifically to any type of abuse—physical, sexual, or psychological abuse—inflicted on one spouse by the other and highlights the intimate nature of the relationship of a batterer and his victim. Though not all women within battering relationships suffer sexual abuse, some are subjected to marital rape. This may include any sexual activity that is forced or coerced from a wife by her spouse. Similarly, not all victims of marital rape endure what is considered a battering relationship. Approximately 1.5 million battered women seek assistance from social welfare and legal organizations each year; there are probably many others, who never come forward for help.
Though studies reveal that no two battering relationships are identical, batterers across ethnicities, social classes, and nation–states do exhibit similar patterns. Experts find that physical abuse is generally accompanied by mental, economic, and psychological abuse to create an environment in which the batterer has an inordinate amount of power and control over his victim’s autonomy. Today in the United States service providers educate battered women about what is known as the “Cycle of Violence,” which begins with a Tension Building phase, leads to an Explosion of a violent incident, and often results in a Hearts and Flowers phase, in which batterers show remorse and vigorously apologize. The combination of nonphysical abuses with both bodily injury and the threat of physical force, and even death, produces a context of intimidation and terror in which battered women may choose to stay confined for fear of death.
Social services and legal assistance for battered women have steadily grown in North America since the 1970s to include shelters, court advocates, and special family violence sections of police stations and state attorney’s offices. Irrespective of the multitude of agencies available to aid women in battering relationships, researchers concur that the chief legal service available to battered women is the protective order, or a court injunction mandated by judges that prohibits a person from harassing, threatening, and even approaching another specified person. But research indicates that wife rape is often not documented in affidavits for protective orders and that service providers in shelters are still reluctant to talk to battered women about sexual violence